There’s an old Chris Rock bit that comes back to me, a fairly famous bit, with language I’ll not reproduce here because 1) I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to the joke and 2) I’M NOT CHRIS ROCK.. He talks about people bragging about doing things that they’re already supposed to do, as if being average was something to be especially supposed to do.
“I take care of my kids,” They say. That’s what you’re supposed to do!
“I ain’t never been to jail.” WHAT DO YOU WANT, A COOKIE!?
Now, Rock points to a certain subsection of the population, but honestly? I see it as a lot more widespread than that.
You see Garrison Keillor, one of my favorite public radio personalities (of which there are many) has had a variation on this notion for years before Rock did, although presented in a different way, both of which speak to different kinds of personalities and truths. Keillor has a section on his regular variety show “Prairie Home Companion” called “The News from Lake Wobegon.” In it he relates folksy small-town musings to the audience, a parody of nostalgia-laden prose one often finds in memoirs and the like. At the end of each time he does the segment, he ends it with this tag-line: “That’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
Everyone. Every single one. Nobody is less than the ideal, at least in their own minds. Everyone is exceptional, no exceptions.
How tragically conceited we are that often this is the narrative that runs in the the back of our minds. I of course include myself in this, because frankly, I am a rather exceptional person! I mean, I’m me! But the truth is, while I may be exceptional in some regards, when it comes to law and justice, I really am not at all exceptional.
Romans 3:21-31 contains a great deal of important Christian theology when it comes to the idea of righteousness and faith. It’s a famous passage that goes a little like this:
21 But now God’s righteousness has been revealed apart from the Law, which is confirmed by the Law and the Prophets. 22 God’s righteousness comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who have faith in him. There’s no distinction. 23 All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, 24 but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus. 25 Through his faithfulness, God displayed Jesus as the place of sacrifice where mercy is found by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness in passing over sins that happened before, 26 during the time of God’s patient tolerance. He also did this to demonstrate that he is righteous in the present time, and to treat the one who has faith in Jesus as righteous.
27 What happens to our bragging? It’s thrown out. With which law? With what we have accomplished under the Law? 28 No, not at all, but through the law of faith. We consider that a person is treated as righteous by faith, apart from what is accomplished under the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Isn’t God the God of Gentiles also? Yes, God is also the God of Gentiles. 30 Since God is one, then the one who makes the circumcised righteous by faith will also make the one who isn’t circumcised righteous through faith. 31 Do we then cancel the Law through this faith? Absolutely not! Instead, we confirm the Law.
The emboldened portion is where I tend to focus. All fall short, and there is no distinction between people when it comes to the baseline. In one of my preparatory classes to be a pastor, I was given this bit of wisdom: “Everyone is Average.” Including pastors. This does not mean that everyone is the same; it just means that on the whole, people tend to fall into he average behaviors and categories of humanity.
That said, I don’t think this is entirely as depressing as it seems. In fact, I find some comfort in it.
Everyone’s at least as messed up as I am. In the end, we all need grace. We all need forgiveness. We all need love to cover for our mistakes, our sins, and our wounds.
In Lent, we are reminded of our mortality, that all people eventually die. Through Christ, though, we find hope for new life.
Thank God it wasn’t just for the exceptional few that Jesus came, but rather, for everyone.